Field Notes: The Critical Role of Artists in Building a Regenerative Community
The current Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows share their ideas, inspirations, and photos from the field on our blog. Learn more about the Fellowship.
Photo courtesy of Thunder Valley CDC
The Thunder Valley Regenerative Community, located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Porcupine, South Dakota is disrupting the status quo by employing innovative strategies to the design of a new 34-acre mixed-use development. Thunder Valley CDC (TVCDC) will break ground on the Development in the summer of 2016. TVCDC is taking a new approach to community planning on the Reservation by inviting Lakota residents to have active input on their built environment. Lakota artist Jennifer Irving describes the question that rests at the heart of the engagement process, "How do we build something unique that indicates who we are as a Lakota People?… We have to be intentional with space... We want to look at something and say, these were constructed in this way because they represent [this]".
Engaging local artists is a vital part of Thunder Valley CDC's regenerative plan. Artists play a critical role in building healthy communities through the promotion of cultural pride and the creation of new economy. TVCDC has formed an Artist Advisory Council (TVAAC) to help guide the design team in the community planning process, ensuring the creation of spaces that are unique to Lakota culture and representative of Lakota Values. The work of these artists build creative capital, enriching life in a way that brings people together through meaningful shared experiences and illustrates how intrinsic art is to Lakota communities. The engagement of artists in the planning process offers communities an opportunity to better represent their values within the built forms that surround them.The need for a new approach to housing and economic growth on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is great. The Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Housing Authority reports a shortage of 2,588 low-income homes on the Reservation. With a population of approximately 35,000 (USDA Promise Zone), this is a significant number. The unemployment rate on the Reservation can range from 80%-95%. Past approaches to bettering these statistics have had low impacts and have rarely, if ever, engaged the local community in the development process.Thunder Valley CDC and their design partners, BNIM, Pyatt Studio, and KLJ Engineering, have deeply engaged the local community to help craft an architecture representative of Lakota values. As the project pushes forward, the TVAAC artists will be active in the community engagement process. As stated by TVCDC Executive Director Nick Tilsen, "The artists are the communicators of what our culture is". Ensuring their involvement is key to the creation of a successful development. The artist's unique ability to synthesize big ideas and create meaningful output will help ensure that the people, culture, and spirituality of the community are represented in the built forms that surround them.
Additionally, in an effort to boost local economy, the input given by the TVAAC will help to shape spaces in the regenerative community where local artists can thrive. According to research performed by Kathleen Sherman in her 2009 work, "Establishing a Creative Economy: Art as an Economic Engine in Native Communities", 30% of all Native peoples are practicing artists. 51% of households on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation depend on home-based enterprise for cash income. Of those households, 79% of enterprise consists of some form of traditional art. Currently, very few formal spaces exist where artists can sell their work on the Reservation. The TVCDC design team is consulting the TVAAC in effort to create effective and applicable art infrastructure within the development. The inclusion of this space will foster the local economy and promote economic development within the community.The Thunder Valley Regenerative Development will employ artistic insight to activate culture and build the local economy. The architecture, the planned public space, and the opportunities within the development's interstitial space will be culturally driven efforts specific to the community they will serve. This planning process is a new approach to development on the Reservation and will craft a physical manifestation of the strong community, culture, and spirituality that already exist in abundance on Pine Ridge.
About the Author: Kaziah Haviland is hosted by Thunder Valley CDC (TVCDC), an organization based in the Porcupine district of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. TVCDC's major project is the Thunder Valley Regenerative Community and Empowerment Center, which will integrate housing, social services, commercial space and light industrial buildings into a holistic model for tribal community development. Kaziah Haviland brings her architectural experience to TVCDC, expanding design capacity through a period of substantial growth.